Thanksgiving in Iraq
User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Oct. 10, is the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle II).
At St. Peter’s Basilica at 9:30am, Pope Benedict XVI will open the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East.
Today’s Gospel is all about thankfulness. As April often tells groups, fostering a grateful heart is one of the key duties of parents.
We make it a point to thank God every day, as a family, for all he has done for us. For years, we have used a binder to keep track: Every day we write down five things we are thankful for and five things we want to ask God for. That practice has been a source of grace in several ways.
For one, it has become a kind of diary. We can find the day we were thankful for meeting a new friend who later became a significant part of our lives, or the day we thanked God for an afternoon adventure that we might otherwise have forgotten.
It has also become a demonstration of how God works in our lives. We can find the places we prayed for a friend looking for a spouse, then we can find the day we thanked God for answering that prayer. We can also identify the prayers that weren’t answered — and often understand why No was the best possible answer God could give us.
But most importantly, it has allowed us to put our lives into perspective on a regular basis. We see how much of what goes on in our life is because of God’s doing and how little was our own wonderful arrangement of things and our own masterful attention to detail.
2 Kings 5:14-17; Psalm 98:1-4; 2 Timothy 2:8-13; Luke 17:11-19
Today’s first reading tells the story of Naaman, the leper king who was cured by the prophet Elisha, and the Gospel tells that of the 10 lepers who were cured by Our Lord. In both, the readings focus on gratitude: Naaman offers a gift of thanks, and one of the lepers — a Samarian — returns to thank Jesus for his cure.
This is a highly appropriate Gospel reading for the day Pope Benedict XVI opens the synod for Middle Eastern bishops — Church leaders from the same places Naaman and the Samarian leper came from.
It will be a difficult synod. With the rise of Islamic extremism, the Church in the Middle East is in terrible trouble. Often, Christians must choose between martyrdom or exile.
In the wake of America’s Operation Freedom, anti-Christian violence erupted in many parts of the Middle East, especially in Iraq. Christian homes and businesses were bombed and burned, and Christians fled the country by the thousands.
But many stayed. Iraqi Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was a smiling, gentle 65-year-old man who stayed. When he was kidnapped two years ago, friends feared for his life because of his frail health. Their worst fears were realized when his body was found on March 13, 2008.
After a car-bomb attack at a Mosul, Iraq, parish, Archbishop Rahho demonstrated what supernatural gratitude looks like. “The church is much better today than before the attack,” the archbishop said. “That violence tested our faith, and in a year we have learned to put into practice values like forgiveness and love, even for those who persecute us.”
Archbishop Rahho’s secretary, Father Ragheed Ganni, learned that lesson of gratitude well. After his sister was injured by terrorists, he considered fleeing but decided to stay.
“There are days when I feel frail and full of fear,” said the priest. “But when, holding the Eucharist, I say ‘Behold the Lamb of God, behold who takes away the sin of the world,’ I feel his strength in me. When I hold the Host in my hands, it is really he who is holding me and all of us, challenging the terrorists and keeping us united in his boundless love.”
Father Ganni was shot dead in Mosul not long after he wrote those words.
It is easy to focus on the difficulties of life and take our blessings for granted.
Americans are very much in the company of those lucky lepers who got singled out for a cure. In a world where there is so much violence, poverty and oppression, we live in a land of peace, prosperity and freedom. Are we grateful?
And are we willing to be like Elisha and Christ and help those who have not been so blessed? The synod bishops need all the prayers and sacrifices we can offer as they decide how to navigate these most difficult of circumstances.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.